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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday November 04 2020, @11:34AM   Printer-friendly
from the Post-Heliopause dept.

Ars Technica has word from the most distant human artifact.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft has been gone from Earth for more than 43 years, and it now lies 125 astronomical units from our planet. That is 125 times the distance between the Earth and Sun.

Understandably, this distance makes it rather difficult for NASA to communicate with its far-flung spacecraft—there is a time delay of more than 17 hours. However, with Voyager 2, there is another complication in talking to the spacecraft.

After flying by Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, Voyager 2 made its final planetary flyby in August 1989 past Neptune. Scientists were also interested in flying by Neptune's intriguing moon Triton, so they commanded Voyager 2 to do so on its way beyond Neptune, flying over the north pole of Triton. This trajectory carried it along a southward path relative to the plane of the Solar System, and it has kept on booking it south.

This has consequences for communicating with NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth, which consists of three large radio antenna facilities around the world, in California, Spain, and Australia. Typically, this geographical spread allows for all of NASA's spacecraft still active to have the capability to communicate with at least one of these facilities at all times.

But because Voyager 2 has dipped so far south of the plane of the Solar System, it can now only communicate by line of sight with the 70-meter-wide antenna in Canberra, Australia. Because this facility is about five decades old, it needed to undergo refurbishment and upgrade work beginning in March, and it had been offline since that time. This work is expected to conclude in February, so NASA has been unable to send signals to Voyager 2 since that time.

Must have been that left turn at Albuquerque.

Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in the Density of Space Outside the Solar System

Original Submission

Related Stories

Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in the Density of Space Outside the Solar System 12 comments

Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in The Density of Space Outside The Solar System:

In November 2018, after an epic, 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 finally crossed the boundary that marked the limit of the Sun's influence and entered interstellar space. But the little probe's mission isn't done yet - it's now sending home information about the space beyond the Solar System.

And it's revealing something surprising. As Voyager 2 moves farther and farther from the Sun, the density of space is increasing.

It's not the first time this density increase has been detected. Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, detected a similar density gradient at a separate location.

Voyager 2's new data show that not only was Voyager 1's detection legit, but that the increase in density may be a large-scale feature of the very local interstellar medium (VLIM).

[...] One theory is that the interstellar magnetic field lines become stronger as they drape over the heliopause. This could generate an electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability that depletes the plasma from the draping region. Voyager 2 did detect a stronger magnetic field than expected when it crossed the heliopause.

Another theory is that material blown by the interstellar wind should slow as it reaches the heliopause, causing a sort of traffic jam. This has possibly been detected by outer Solar System probe New Horizons, which in 2018 picked up the faint ultraviolet glow resulting from a buildup of neutral hydrogen at the heliopause.

It's also possible that both explanations play a role. Future measurements taken by both Voyager probes as they continue their journey out into interstellar space could help figure it out. But that might be a long bet to take.

"It is not certain," the researchers wrote in their paper, "whether the Voyagers will be able to operate far enough to distinguish between these two classes of models."

Original Submission

Humanity's Most Distant Space Probe Jeopardized by Computer Glitch 14 comments

Voyager 1 is still alive out there, barreling into the cosmos more than 15 billion miles away. However, a computer problem has kept the mission's loyal support team in Southern California from knowing much more about the status of one of NASA's longest-lived spacecraft.

The computer glitch cropped up on November 14, and it affected Voyager 1's ability to send back telemetry data, such as measurements from the spacecraft's science instruments or basic engineering information about how the probe was doing. [...] "It would be the biggest miracle if we get it back. We certainly haven't given up," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview with Ars. "There are other things we can try. But this is, by far, the most serious since I've been project manager."

Dodd became the project manager for NASA's Voyager mission in 2010, overseeing a small cadre of engineers responsible for humanity's exploration into interstellar space. Voyager 1 is the most distant spacecraft ever, speeding away from the Sun at 38,000 mph (17 kilometers per second). [...] The latest problem with Voyager 1 lies in the probe's Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), one of three computers on the spacecraft working alongside a command-and-control central computer and another device overseeing attitude control and pointing. [...] In November, the data packages transmitted by Voyager 1 manifested a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were stuck, according to NASA. Dodd said engineers at JPL have spent the better part of three months trying to diagnose the cause of the problem. She said the engineering team is "99.9 percent sure" the problem originated in the FDS, which appears to be having trouble "frame syncing" data. [...] "It's likely somewhere in the FDS memory," Dodd said. "A bit got flipped or corrupted. But without the telemetry, we can't see where that FDS memory corruption is."

[...] "We have sheets and sheets of schematics that are paper, that are all yellowed on the corners, and all signed in 1974," Dodd said. "They're pinned up on the walls and people are looking at them. That's a whole story in itself, just how to get to the information you need to be able to talk about the commanding decisions or what the problem might be." [...] "It is difficult to command Voyager," Dodd said. "We don't have any type of simulator for this. We don't have any hardware simulator. We don't have any software simulator... There's no simulator with the FDS, no hardware where we can try it on the ground first before we send it. So that makes people more cautious, and it's a balance between getting commanding right and taking risks."

[...] The spacecraft's vast distance and position in the southern sky require NASA to use the largest 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at a Deep Space Network tracking site in Australia, one of the network's most in-demand antennas.

"The data rates are very low, and this anomaly causes us not to have any telemetry," Dodd said. "We're kind of shooting in the blind a little bit because we don't know what the status of the spacecraft is completely."

Previously on SoylentNews:
Engineers Work to Fix Voyager 1 Computer - 20231215

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday November 04 2020, @12:10PM

    by takyon (881) <> on Wednesday November 04 2020, @12:10PM (#1072852) Journal []

    While mission operators haven't been able to command Voyager 2 since DSS43 went offline, the three 34-meter-wide (111-foot-wide) radio antennas at the Canberra facility can be used together to capture the signals that Voyager 2 sends to Earth. The probe is sending back science data from interstellar space, or the region outside our Sun's heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun that surrounds the planets and the Kuiper Belt (the collection of small, icy bodies beyond Neptune's orbit).

    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @12:30PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @12:30PM (#1072858)

    With only one antenna, as the eatrh rotates, does it only work half a day, each day?

    If so, does the sat delay before sending, or what?

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @04:06PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @04:06PM (#1072907)

      With only one antenna, as the earth rotates, does it only work half a day, each day?

      Well that would depend on the exact angle relative to Earth's axis.

      Imagine a spacecraft which is pointed directly at the south pole, in line with the Earth's axis. then the entire southern hemisphere (including Australia) would be visible to the spacecraft all the time (the Earth's orbit around the Sun will prevent perfect alignment all the time but the impact at 125AU would be small). This is the same geometry that results in the North Star being visible essentially everywhere in the northern hemisphere, year round.

      Given the position of the spacecraft, there are probably parts of the southern hemisphere that are "in sight" of the spacecraft all the time. I don't know if the Canberra DSN site is such a location.

      • (Score: 4, Informative) by shipofgold on Wednesday November 04 2020, @04:32PM

        by shipofgold (4696) on Wednesday November 04 2020, @04:32PM (#1072917)

        Canberra, at 35 degrees south latitude still has a significant part of the southern sky that will be below the horizon at certain times of the day/year so I am guessing that NASA will not rely on 7x24 line of site (I haven't done the geometry) to the spacecraft.

        Answering the GP post, I am pretty sure NASA will instruct Voyager at what time to send a response to ensure that a receiving station is in place. Continuous reception is not required...just need to be in sync with the spacecraft so that it knows when to transmit.

    • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @05:11PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @05:11PM (#1072934)

      It's on a wheel cart on tracks that goes around the earth including pontoon bridges across the oceans and goes 1000 miles an hour.

      Next question?

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @03:11PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @03:11PM (#1072884)

    NASA: "Voyager 2, can you read me?"

    (17 hours later)
    VOYAGER: "Yes. Who won election?"

    (17 hours later)
    (34 hour later)
    (3 days later)

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @05:17PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @05:17PM (#1072938)

      NASA: "Our old friend Hanging Chad has been in cocoon, metamorphosed, and returned as Smudged Ink. Expect further delays and investigations."
      VOYAGER: "So cold, so far away..."

  • (Score: -1, Spam) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @08:41PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2020, @08:41PM (#1073108)

    occult A turned into /\ pyramid. You see it over and over throughout everything, it permeates everything!

    and "they" think this is "clever". Nope!